Digging Deeper on Motivation

Thursday, September 1, 2011 - 08:16

Knowing what behaviours you are trying to motivate will help you lead your teams more effectively.

We all know that motivated teams achieve better outcomes. That's because team members put something extra into their work. Lose it, and results would not stand out in the same way.

Just what is that 'something'? Is it the extra energy and effort, greater creativity or more care? It's worth pausing to think about this, because if we know what behaviours we are trying to motivate then we are better placed to lead effectively. The answer to that something is not as obvious as it might seem at first. We need to dig deeper, and ask 'what else do I need to know?'.

Behaviours we want to motivate

Let's start with the behaviours we want to motivate before we move on to ways we can do it.

Being productive
Great teams are energised to produce results. They consistently outperform others. They take pride in their work and are eager to learn. In teams where success depends on cooperating closely, they're more than willing to share their skills and knowledge. They don't like to waste resources and they care about their customers. Working this way feels good, like sitting down to a nice meal together.

Ordinary teams are very different. They do what they have to do, put less value on sharing and learning, and often have to do the job again because it wasn't good enough the first time around. It's about as much fun as drinking warm milk in summer.

Keeping going when things get tough
Great teams keep at it until the job is done. They don't give up easily and persist until they find a way around obstacles. For them, a problem is a challenge. When things don't turn out as well as they had hoped, they are determined to do it better next time. They are also willing to go the extra mile for their customers. They'll even elect to stay back to fix things if they think they need to.

Motivated teams also get all of the work done, not just the fun things. Someone is always prepared to do the boring, less glamorous stuff.

Focusing on team and company goals
Great teams understand what their real priorities are. They know where they are in the bigger picture. In a commercial kitchen the chefs need to know if their job is to cook the chicken or make the gravy. They also need to know about time frames, processes, resources and customer expectations. Armed with this information they have focus and goals to work towards. It's the same with any team in any situation.

When goals and priorities are fuzzy, the company suffers on many counts. Team morale drops because what they produce is not appreciated by management to the extent expected. There is confusion about who should be doing what and mumblings about poor communication and lack of support. Across teams there is duplication on the one hand, and things being overlooked on the other. People look around for someone to blame and then the conflict starts.

Motivation and leadership

So that's what we need to know about motivated behaviours, but how does a leader motivate his or her team? One approach is to devise some leadership strategies for each of the behaviour sets.

Leading for productivity
Leading for a productive team is essentially about how we reward people for their efforts. A job can be intrinsically rewarding due to the enjoyment and satisfaction that the person experiences.

As the leader, you do not have direct or immediate control over another person's intrinsic satisfaction, but you can design jobs that make it more likely.

Jobs that require a range of skills, opportunities to learn, self-direction and feedback from customers and peers, are of this ilk. A lack of intrinsic rewards leads to disengagement and loss of enthusiasm.

Other rewards result from company policies, the way you acknowledge good work and your everyday behaviour towards each member of the team. This is the stuff of extrinsic rewards. It is not just about monetary rewards, but a whole range of often simple and subtle measures to shape a productive workplace. You are very visible to your team and what you do every time to encourage and guide counts.

Fail to provide useful feedback or a fair and equitable environment, and the costs will show in terms of absences, carelessness and seeking better opportunities elsewhere.

Leading through the tougher times
Sometimes a lot more is needed to get the necessary results. Unexpected delays, complications, vexations and changes of plan are common. Some of the work that needs to be done may be boring, frustrating or hazardous. At these times the usual carrots have little relevance; but the team needs to keep going. So what does work?

This is where strong corporate and team cultures come into play. In the right atmosphere, seeing the job through to completion is a matter of pride and an expression of belief in what the team stands for. These are the foundations of what is often termed 'commitment'.

In the difficult times, commitment to the team and the task is what it takes. Anyone can lead when things are going well. As the leader, your role is to build and maintain a strong team culture before it is really needed. This takes a long time and requires considerable thought and reflection on your part.

Leading strategically
There is little point in leading a good team that directs its attention to the things that don't matter. People resent being told that they were wasting their time after putting in a lot of effort. Deliver on strategic outcomes and see the benefits in terms of greater influence within the company and within your team.

As the team leader you have two matters to keep in mind. First, you need to stay close to the thinking within the top leadership team to understand what the real priorities are. Second, you need to keep your team thoroughly briefed about where their roles fit in terms of the larger company strategy.

Remember, motivation is catching. So start with the 'something' you really want to motivate and then give some serious thought to how you will do it.